SUDAN: Sudanese Women - Towards Ending Violence and Discrimination

The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on Women in Africa is considered as one of the important women's rights protection instruments at regional level. It emphasize on women in conflict, women refugees, displaced, women under severe poverty and harmful practices. This article will reflect that the ratification of the protocol is crucial for Sudanese women because it highlights on the present situation on the Sudanese women.

Education- equal opportunity: the dream of millions of the girls' child

While the article 12 of the protocol stated that "eliminate of all forms of discrimination against women and guarantee equal opportunity and access in the sphere of education and training" educational opportunities for women and girls are very limited, the rate of enrollment ranges between 86% in Khartoum state and between 21% and 30% in other states, particularly Darfur state. Dropout rates amongst girls in primary school are high. The curriculum is gender biased and does not consider the cultural diversity; it perpetrates stereotyping roles of women. The illiteracy rate amongst women is also very high.

FGM: from "prohibition" to "legislation"

Sudan is among 28 African countries which are heavily practicing the female circumcision/ FGM. It had been prohibited by Sudan's penal code from 1946 (during colonial era) until 1983, the most sever form of female circumcision, infibulations, was prohibited by penal code. The offense was punishable by imprisonment of maximum five years and / or a fine. The law was initially enacted under British colonial rule and was ratified again in 1957 and 1974; this provision was apparently repealed with the promulgation of the 1983 penal code which included no provision on infibulations. The 1991 penal code also contains no provisions explicitly prohibiting F.C.

In 1981, a national workshop was held on F.C [1] issues and solid strategies were recommended and were set. The major achievement of the 1981 conference was the establishment of the Sudanese National Committee for the Eradication of Female Circumcision (SNCEFC); it was established by decree of the Minster of the interior and social welfare in 1984. The committee was eventually replaced by Eradication of Traditional Harmful Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (ETHP). However, the state has taken backward steps from its commitment. Regarding the injection of F.C. information within the educational curricula, it was meant to be introduced at primary school level (8thclass), and secondary school (1st and 2nd class). But the idea was widely resisted by the General Assembly members; accordingly, the textbook was withdrawn in 1999, and then resumed in 2000.

May conference on FGM: the wrong end of the rope

In May 2002, a large conference was held by the Women's College of Omdurman Islamic University and sponsored by the Ministry of Guidance and Endowment. It was attended by physicians, scientists, religious leaders and NGO representatives. The main outcome of the conference was an official change of attitude towards "legalizations" of FGM as part of Islamic practice" and it was concluded that "the state [has] to encourage such a recommendation".

Civil society and women organizations and some human rights organizations have to reorganize themselves to reshape an effective advocacy plans and to lobby the government's concerned bodies for law initiation. Protocol articles on harmful traditional practices can be used as strong instrument in their advocacy plan.

Political participation- 2008 election can make a difference

Women's participation in Politics is minimal and meager. Up to date the rate of women ministers at federal levels is only 6.8% compared to the male rate at states level, which stands at 8.6%.[2] The rate of women in parliament is 19.7% and until 2003 the participation of women in higher ranks of public service in different government bodies did not exceed 11%. The number of women in senior civil service posts in Khartoum was 343 out of a total of 1642 posts. In the states, the number is 3241 posts out of 10448 posts. There were only 67 female judges in Sudan, 2 ambassadors and 17 diplomats. In the public sector, women's participation is 35% and in the private sector it is 10% in the state of Khartoum. Although women participate by 80% in agricultural operations, their calculated contribution in the national economy is only 26%. This is as well as and despite the effort they exert in performing household duties; which is not considered work [3].

The signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), DPA AND EPA are providing a solid base for women to lobby the States Parties for effective representation and participation of women at all levels of decision-making. Sudanese women rights bottleneck: access to justice /access to law: The promotion of women's legal rights is affected by the lack of legal awareness, inaccessibility and lack of availability of legal services for women. Legislation is drenched in technical language to the point that it excludes laypersons from understanding and exercising their rights. Furthermore, prevalence of discriminatory laws and Acts restricts women, cripples their status and restricts their freedom and mobility.[4] Examples of these laws include the Labor Law, Nationality Law, Criminal Act, the Public Orders Law, Land Ownership, Personal Status Law and Customary Laws, amongst others.

According to the Nationality Act, Sudanese women who have children born to a non-Sudanese father have no right to claim Sudanese nationalities for their children.[5] The Public Orders Law for Khartoum state 1996 raised controversial discussions and dialogue about its articles that control the freedom and mobility of women. Each State has its own law and there are no great differences in their contents. Article 7 forbids mixed dance and does not allow women to dance in front of men. Article 9 specifies one door and ten seats allocated for women on public transport. Article 16 sets the age at which a woman may manage her own hair dressing shop at 35 years of age. Article 18 prohibits men from practicing tailor work for women except after obtaining approval from local authorities. Although Sharia law should only apply to Muslim citizens, women belonging to other religions have to adopt an Islamic dress code. This includes the requirement for women to cover their heads with veils and prosecutions for those found brewing alcohol. Women are often convicted and their business merchandise confiscated.

Women in conflict: ending all forms of sexual violence

Sudan has been hardly attested by long civil wars and conflicts, accordingly women's situations have been altered to cope with the war situation. They are the most affected by armed conflicts; they always end up shouldering the burden of loss of family members, displacement, fragmentation, identity crisis, insecurity and end up heading households. Also, their accessibility to food, shelter, resources, markets and income becomes increasingly limited. Sudanese women's efforts to contribute in the Sudan Peace talks and negotiations have been largely sidelined. The prevailing situation (atrocities committed against women and girls) resulted from the latest conflict in Darfur and has created a wide spectrum of issues; yet, women are not powerless or victims to their circumstance. On the contrary, they are heads of households and community keepers; they struggle to keep their families, communities and their identity in tact to surpass any armed struggle.

It is great opportunity and it is a high time for Sudanese women to take the privileges and opportunities created by the existence of new peace settlement by the AU and the UN, particularly in Darfur to advocate for the protocol ratification.

More orientation is needed

Since the adoption of the protocol in 2003, very little efforts have taken place to diffuse the protocol's content and lobbying for ratification. The first orientation session has been held by Mutawinat group following the adoption of the protocol. The objective of the session was to orient the civil society groups in Sudan by the existence of the protocol as well as to reveal the government attitudes towards the protocol.

Zienab Abbas (Sudanese women's right activist participated on stages of the negotiations that the protocol has passed), according to Mrs. Zienab "the protocol was exhausted extensive consultations, discussions and brainstorming, before its formulation so this why the protocol considered as a comprehensive and human rights document for African women". "Unlike the CEDAW the protocol emphasized on harmful practices and for the first time FGM to be singled out as one of the most harmful practice in Africa. One of the most privileges of the protocol is considering the situation of women during war and conflicts, women refugee, displaced, women under severe poverty"

Mrs. Aisha Abuelgasim (Ministry of social planning Advisor) revealed the preliminary official reactions to the protocol; the government tends to make some reservations on the following articles:

Article no. 20-(b) (a widow shall automatically become the guardian and custodian of her children, after the death of her husband, unless this is contrary to the interests and the welfare of the children). The reason of conservation is that item contradicts with personal status matters law, 1991.

Article no. 7-(a) (Separation, divorce or annulment of as marriage shall...).

Article no. 14 (State parties shall ensure that the right to health of women including sexual and reproductive health is respected and promoted .....) Article no. 6 (State parties shall ensure that women and men enjoy equal rights and are regarded as equal partners in marriage.

According to Aisha the government did not submit a detailed justifications for such reservations but in generally the reason given is that these items are either contradicting with the prevailing laws or with Shari'a principles.

One step forward

SOAWR has played a great role to push the ratification issue in Sudan during the January 2006 summit. In collaboration with SIHA and several Sudanese organizations SOAWR hosted a well attended symposium on the Protocol addressing the Protocol's various articles from an Islamic perspective. As an immediate outcome of the meeting, Sudan was red-carded with the Minister of Health receiving the card for President Bashir. Sudanese organizations also circulated a petition calling on the Sudanese government to deposit its instrument of ratification. SIHA also became a member of SOAWR and committed to expanding the campaign's reach to its members in Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Somaliland and the Sudan. More recently, SIHA has participated on a joint SOAWR/Oxfam GB Workshop to Review the Governance and Transparency Funding Bid. As a result a country strategy (2008-2012) has been developed as one step towards advocating for ratification and making the Protocol widely popular in the Sudan. The main aim of the strategic plan is to take advantage of new political and supportive atmosphere of the first general election, by 2008, following the signing of CPA, and to secure ratification by 2009.


AUTHOR: Manal Abdelhalim

URL: Click here

DATE: 27/11/2007


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